Security, supply and sanitation

Keith Hayward

With the UN SDG deadline of 2030 approaching fast, there is good reason to look beyond the core water supply and sanitation goals to a wider, more all-embracing need for water security (see p26).

At the same time, we still see that delivering on even the most basic of needs can represent a huge achievement, not least for access to a safe water supply. The article on p18 charts the transformation under way in India’s Odisha state, rolling out the 24/7 Drink from Tap initiative. Meanwhile, this edition’s cover story (p22) summarises China’s approach to meeting the water supply needs of its rural communities across the country’s expanse.

Water security should indeed be a longer-term goal. This year’s World Water Development Report highlights water’s role in peace and prosperity. Water security can be seen as the route to the fullest contribution to that peace and prosperity. But this security is inseparable from the basic needs. And whether it is access to a tap or a toilet, meeting these basic needs must not just be a case of connect and forget – the access needs to be sustained.

That means ensuring access to a safe water supply on an ongoing basis. Here, there is a huge task ahead with small water supplies.

The recent launch by the World Health Organization (WHO) of its new Guidelines for Drinking Water Quality: Small Water Supplies (see News) is vitally important here. Replacing WHO’s guidelines for community supplies that date back 27 years, the new document and supporting tool for sanitary inspections integrate the concept of water safety planning tailored to small supplies for the first time.

The other big change with the new guidelines is that they are framed around three ways that supplies are managed – by households, by communities, and those that are professionally managed. The guidelines aim at progressive improvement and, notably, one of their six key recommendations is to adopt regulatory approaches that promote a shift towards professionalised operation and management of these supplies.

WHO also notes that the challenges that many small supplies face are being exacerbated by the impacts of climate change on water quality and quantity.

Prospects for water scarcity are already hugely concerning. A recent study (see News) factored in and signalled the importance of water quality.

Looking at 10,000 sub-basins worldwide and incorporating nitrogen pollution, the number of sub-basins having clean water scarcity is 2.5 times that of the number with water scarcity as of 2010. In 2050, it is put at more than three times the number, with more than 3000 sub-basins facing clean water scarcity under the worst-case scenario considered. What is more, under this worst-case scenario sewage is projected as the main source of nitrogen pollution in rivers because of rapid urbanisation and insufficient wastewater treatment and infrastructure.

As we look ahead, there is, on the one hand, a call for greater professionalisation of water supply management. But there is also a clear need to make sure the sanitation loop is closed. Then, together, supply and sanitation can provide the foundations needed for a water secure future.

Keith Hayward, Editor